Seoul food: 10 of the city’s best restaurants
A Seoul institution, the speciality here is gomtang, a highly nutritious beef bone soup (and a great hangover cure) – which has been made the same way since the restaurant opened in the 1930s. In fact gomtang is the only thing on the menu, although there are several variations. The beef stock is boiled for a long time with radish, so it is full of flavour – and is best enjoyed with a side dish of radish kimchi. Hadongkwan has many loyal regulars and you often see three generations of family dining together there.
• 10-4 Myeong-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu, hadongkwan.com
I try to come to this no-frills restaurant whenever I’m in Seoul. Budae-jjigae (aka army base stew) was invented after the Korean war when food was scarce and Koreans had to scrounge or smuggle the ingredients – mainly meat, sausage, spam, and baked beans – from US army bases, mixing them with local flavours gochujang (chilli paste) and kimchi to create a strange hybrid stew. A small portion is enough for two, and the larger size can be shared between four (£13-£23).
Although it began as a solution to post-war food shortages, budae-jjigae is now a nostalgic favourite, viewed as the ultimate comfort food by the older generation and fashionably retro by the young. Increasingly, tourists are also seeking out this simple eatery which has been serving its version of the stew, using the same recipe, for 45 years, and also features a dish called Johnson tang, which is budae-jjigae without the kimchi.
It is in the Itaewon district, which draws a lot of tourists thanks to its concentration of hip bars and restaurants.
• 18 Itaewon-Ro 49-Gil, Hannam-Dong, Yongsan-Gu, no website
This prestigious restaurant opened over three decades ago – and its reputation is reflected in the long queues, especially during summer. Samgyetang (£15-£20) is the most popular dish in summer – a whole chicken stuffed with fresh ingredients including ginseng; it is renowned for being one of the healthiest dishes in Korea. To add additional flavour have it with insam-ju (ginseng liquor £7). Tosokchon is in Bukchon Hanok Village, where traditional hanok houses have been preserved and protected.
• 5 Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, tosokchon.com
The fried chicken and draft beer at this independent bar in trendy Apgujeong is not to be missed. As well as the chicken, I recommend the deep fried crispy pepper (£15), filled with seasoned mince and then deep-fried in batter. Hanchu is next to the shopping mecca of Garosu-Gil, or “tree-lined street”, so makes a great post-shopping pitstop (it doesn’t open until 5pm).
• 68 Nonhyeon-Ro 175-Gil, Sinsa-Dong, Gangnam-Gu, no website
Mingles is a modern, fine dining restaurant in the buzzy Cheongdam-dong district which has been awarded one Michelin star. It is a personal favourite of mine, as they serve modern Korean dishes which are true to traditional Korean tastes. The chef, Mingoo Kang, is a growing celebrity in Korean cuisine (previous stints at Nobu) so book as far in advance as you can – maybe even before you book your flights to Seoul. Lunch is £45-£50, dinner £100 (both excluding drinks and service), but well worth it if you want one splash out meal.
• 757 Seolleung-ro, Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, restaurant-mingles.com
I head to this place every time I’m in town for Korea’s famous street food – ddukbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce). I also enjoy the squid, chili, prawn tempura and kingsize wang kimbab (Korean rice roll), odeng (fishcake) and soondae (Korean black pudding). It’s open from 6pm to 6am.
• Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu
I love coming here after a few drinks late at night. It’s open 24/7 and known for its Korean table barbecue but I always have the ddaro gukbab (soup made with beef stock, Chinese leafs and radishes) or yookwhei bibimbab, which is lightly seasoned raw beef on top of “mixed rice” (under £10) with a few more drinks. Many young people head here on Friday and Saturday night after clubbing, so you might spot few K-pop celebrities, too.
• 6 Dosan-daero 101-gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, on Facebook
At this restaurant, which is just around the corner from my home, I order the dolsot jeongsik – rice cooked in a hot stone pot and laid out with soup and about 25 different types of side dish. This type of dining is caled hansang, which translates as “table full of food”. At the end of the meal, pour the excess water into the stone pot and drink it. It’s £20 but worth every penny.
• 585-13 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu
Wooraeoak is known for its incredible naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles), another Korean dish that’s very popular in summer, and usually accompanies a bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef). Wooraeoak is the longest running is one of the oldest Pyeongyang-style naengmyeon houses in Seoul, somewhere you can find an authentic taste of North Korea.
• 62-29, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jung-gu, website in Korean
Food Court at Hyundai Department Store (COEX branch)
The COEX is a large-scale business town of assembly halls, exhibition halls, the Korean City air terminal, Intercontinental Hotel and Hyundai Department Store. The food court at the department store is a sleek, city-centre spot where you’ll find all the latest Korean food trends. I would recommend the ddukbokki spicy rice cake (under £7).
• 517, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu
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